Saturday 11/4 10:45 am Anken Rooftop Garden
My roommate and I arrive at Hanzhong Road Station at 10:35 am. I was supposed to be at the garden five minutes ago. I find a Mobike, a local share bike that is common for locals to use. In a narrow street bordering a bridge, my roommate and I speed to keep ahead of the large and loud truck, the sound of its wheels echoing off the plastered walls on our right and the concrete bridge’s legs on our left. My bike’s rickety and well-used frame gets me up to the bridge when the chain finally gives out. The spindles sound free as the loose chain rattles like the ghost of Mobike’s past. My banged up metal bell fails to alert my roommate who has already turned onto the bridge. I move aside to let the truck pass, park the bike, and lock it. BEEP BEEP. Luckily, across the street are a row of Mobikes, all plastered with various advertisement stickers, and in varying degrees of hard use. I pass the line of ofo bikes, none of them rideable. The first Mobike I try to scan is no good. The QR code is scratched out, as if someone burnt the plastic with a cigarette. I check the QR code on the back; it’s all blacked out with a sticker or perhaps a marker of sorts. Finally I get back onto the bridge where my roommate waits for me. We bike uphill, scooters whirring and whizzing past us as we pass chatting pairs and strolling civilians. Interestingly, the paved bridge appears like a road in width and in asphalt material, yet no cars drive on it, only pedestrians and bikers use the path. On the bridge, we hear and smell the construction before we even see it. I block out the smell of dust and gasoline by holding my breath as we pass by the construction of an office building, surrounded by older looking structures. Below the bridge flows a small river or canal. We reach the end of the bridge and then finally the tall office building which stands below the garden.
Inside a large elevator, we rise to the sixth floor, after which we climb stairs to finally reach the roof. We are greeted by 10 rows of various vegetables and herbs and three other volunteers. Today we’re weeding the newly planted patches and planting mustard and kale. Seeing the expanse of green, it’s easy to forget that we’re standing on top of an office building surrounded by neatly arranged rows of dirt, but every time my shovel hits netting and hard tile, I’m reminded that we’re planting on a roof. Then I look up and see the taller buildings surrounded ours. My ears wake up and hear the traffic below. While there is biodiversity in the garden, there is nowhere near the amount of acoustic diversity. I find grasshoppers, earthworms, and snail shells, but I hear no birds, no insects, and certainly no snail operas, only faint zooming from the road below. Though we were removed from the busy area around the metro station, we were still in the city. Realizing the absence of natural sound for the first time, I realized why the illusion of the rooftop garden never quite felt complete. The man-made garden we had on the roof lacked the spark and sounds of a garden placed in nature.
Sunday 11/5 5:15 pm Lujiazui Huayuan
Looking at a map and walking through, I can see the apartment complex is arranged in such a way to minimize noise pollution in the central plaza. Shrubs hug the gates of the community as the first defense to the sounds of traffic. Around each tower, trees and shrubs act as the second defense, especially for those who live on the first floor. However, the focus is not on the towers but on the main plaza. Instead of trees, the buildings are used to disperse the sound from the surrounding main road. They encircle the plaza that sits centrally in the middle of the complex. The path to the plaza is not only lined with trees but also houses two rows of ten sturdy concrete lamps wider enough for me to hide behind. To enter the plaza, one descends a wide staircase on either the north or the south side. Each staircase is split in the middle by a fountain which takes up about a third of the width. During the day, the fountain provides white noise that further blocks out noise pollution. It is because of this particular construction that the neighbors in the apartment complex can enjoy such a relaxing Sunday evening outside. It is also this same design that gives neighbors a sense of community.
Outside the doors of my tower, neighbors greet each other and spend their lazy Sunday afternoon relaxing. I strain to hear the sounds of traffic. Sure enough, I can still hear a large struck and its every deceleration and acceleration. On my sound level app, the average rests at a comfortable 55 decibels, comparable to a quiet office or moderate rainfall. The quiet is punctuated by the shouts of children making the most of their last few hours of free time. A boy around ten wearing a gray- and blue- colored light coat plays badminton with his father. The tall, stiff man shows prowess in badminton, as he doesn’t move very much. On the other hand, the energetic child lunges forward and leans backward to hit the shuttlecock, missing almost every time. Although, he is not to be discouraged. Each attempt is punctuated by a “Hah!” or a “Bleh!” as he comes closer to becoming super saiyan. Behind me I hear the door to a neighboring tower open. Two grannies come out chatting. Badminton boy is scolded by his granny in a concerned tone. She adjusts his coat to keep out the cold in true granny fashion. They leave together and it becomes quiet again.
Sunday 11/5 6:15 pm Shanghai Metro Line 7
Stepping from the platform to the train, my ears are met with the sounds of an action video playing out loud. As I make my way to a seat, I hear the noise signaling the doors closing. For the first time I realize that there are at least two different kinds of sound signals for the closing doors. The first consists of four regularly spaced, monotonic, high-pitched beeps. The second, which I noticed for the first time, consists of four regularly spaced sets of two consecutive beeps the first one high and the second one lower. The first one sounds more insistent and invasive of my sound space. The second one is a bit more like a gentle prod to move out of the doorway. After a while, my attention returned to the action video sounds. At its source, I found a middle school-aged boy watching an iPad and reacting quietly to the video. He’s intent on the video, not noticing his sleeping guardian or the smaller boy looking over his shoulder to watch the video. I see another sleepy passenger wearing earphones trying to find the source as well. He surveys his surroundings before going back to sleep. Looking around, I counted seven other commuters wearing earphones, taking control of their own sound spaces. In front of me, a pair of young women with matching shoes, pants, and lipsticks are chatting away like good friends. After I had pulled out my notebook together with my noise-measuring app, they started talking more quietly, covering their mouths when talking. Perhaps they are being mindful of the volume or of their privacy. Similarly the grandpa to my right speaks more quietly to his companion next to him after briefly observing my scribbling. I return to my noise level app. Unexpectedly, the loudest noises come from the train accelerating and turning as it travels between stations, reaching the upper 90’s decibel range comparable to a food blender or a motorcycle according to the app. Though the space is more dynamic when people are entering and disembarking, the sound at this point has a comparatively lower decibel level, averaging in the lower 80’s decibel range comparable to loud singing or being inside a car. The noise levels of non-salient background droning sounds are indeed surprising. It is no wonder that transportation is attributed so often for creating noise pollution.
Link to Final Project Presentation 1 here.